In the past year (2019) have you noticed any trends in practice at your firm/organization? For example, changing workloads; challenges in recruitment and retention, training, or promotion; outsourcing of accounting services; staff shortages; or tapping into retirees?
Greenberg: We experienced all of the above. Our number one concern is the recruitment and retention of excellent staff to meet our growing client needs. When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was implemented, we addressed the dramatic uptick in our firm’s overall workload by amplifying our recruitment initiatives. This also helped us with the significant growth we experienced during 2019.
According to the 2019 Rosenberg Survey, there is a huge divide between the age of partners and professional staff. Have you seen the same? Do you think this has an impact on retention?
Berk: We work hard to encourage younger professionals to stay at our firm, and our bench is very strong. In order to keep that pathway clear, we invest heavily in our employees’ professional development. We promote specialized trainings like Friedman U, Rainmaker Academy, and more. Not only do our up-and-coming leaders get the necessary tools to succeed, but they feel valued because they know that as a firm we put their well being first.
The 2019 Rosenberg Survey found that the percentage of women partners continues to grow very slowly, especially at large firms. What have you experienced? What explains the challenges the profession faces in achieving greater gender parity? How about racial and ethnic diversity?
Davis: Friedman has a higher percentage of women in leadership roles than many of our competitors, with 20% of our female professionals filling partner positions. Notably, our alternative work arrangement allows greater flexibility and is especially popular among new moms. We also have a strong Women’s Development Network that is designed to help our women professionals develop critical skills, achieve work/life balance and advance their careers. Having Harriet Greenberg as our co-managing partner gives a tangible example of what’s possible.
According to the survey, revenue per partner and equity per partner are increasing. Leverage (the ratio of professional and administrative staff to partners) seems to impact this. Can you comment on this—do you see burnout and extra work increasing among non-partners? Are you witnessing greater unhappiness or staff turnover?
Berk: What we’re seeing is the increased relevance of technologies like automation and cloud-based software, which is increasingly efficient, enabling us to grow while maintaining costs. These innovations allow us to cover more ground when it comes to handling our significant client work. As a result, we anticipate our staff continuing to grow in 2020, but not in proportion to our increasing revenue.
Can you weigh in on what you’ve seen in 2019 in terms of new practice areas, new regulation, legislation headaches, and new emerging technologies and practice growth areas?
Greenberg: Adaptability is a key ingredient for why Friedman has been around for nearly 100 years. It’s about recognizing a challenge area and saying, “How can we make our clients’ lives a little easier and more secure?” Our cybersecurity and digital currency practices, for example, have grown significantly and not only address our clients’ unique needs, but attract an array of unique professionals from alternative industries.
Berk: A big part of 2019 has been expansion and relocation. The relocation and complete redesign of our firm headquarters in downtown Manhattan became the prototype for all our locations. Our office features state-of-the-art amenities, break rooms, and seat arrangements that emphasize beneficial ergonomics. This further demonstrates our commitment to our employees’ well-being. We expect to open more geographic locations in addition to our new formalized presence in Los Angeles and Red Bank, N.J., as well as continued expansion of our existing practice groups.
Mehta: Friedman’s century-old approach to client service reflects two key-stones: agility and specialization. We will be launching the Friedman Alliance in an effort to help member firms further their business goals and amplify their presence in an overcrowded marketplace.
Greenwald: In terms of legislation, staying informed of regulatory changes by maintaining a presence on Capitol Hill gives us the real-time updates that we need to guide our clients through regulatory changes. Rather than view these changes as a “headache,” we prefer to think of them as opportunities for us to revise our approach by tapping into our deep wealth of experienced advisors. Overall, we embrace changes under the regulatory environment, as it is meant to protect our profession.
What do you expect to see in 2020, and what are your thoughts about the marketplace, the economic environment, technology, and other trends in the future?
Berk: I knew early on that blockchain technology would play an important role. We opened a digital currency practice in 2017 to provide early solutions to challenges that our clients were facing; it has been a burgeoning practice area ever since. Furthermore, the impact of artificial intelligence on our profession is an area of interest. As it develops further, we will certainly shift our approach accordingly.
Greenberg: While we don’t know what the economic future holds, we will do what we always have over the past 100 years—adapt and diversify. We’ll keep an eye on the horizon for significant trends that could affect our clients and adapt our plans accordingly. Despite our readiness to stay nimble, however, we never compromise our core values of putting people at the heart of everything we do, from keeping our employees’ happiness at the forefront to seeking all opportunities to maximize our clients’ financial positions.